Metro Manila will be under Alert Level 3 starting Oct. 16, one step lower in the five-level alert system as COVID-19 cases continue to decline, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) said Wednesday.
At Alert Level 3, gyms, spas, internet cafes, museums, libraries, billiard halls, cinemas, and amusement arcades—as well as restaurants and personal care services—will be allowed to operate at 30 percent of indoor capacity for fully vaccinated individuals, and at 50 percent outdoor venue capacity provided that all employees are fully vaccinated.
Individual outdoor exercises will also be allowed for all ages regardless of comorbidities or vaccination status.
Contact sports except for those under a bubble setup, unauthorized face-to-face classes, and venues with live voice or wind-instrument performers such as karaokes, clubs, and concert halls remain prohibited.
Gatherings in residences with individuals not belonging to the same household also remain banned.
The government also lifted the mandatory quarantine in a facility for inbound travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, provided they present a negative result from a RT-PCR test 72 hours before their departure from their country of origin.
They are required to undergo home quarantine for 14 days, however.
The IATF also placed 9 provinces and two cities – Apayao, Kalinga, Batanes, Bulacan, Bataan, Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, and Zamboanga del Norte as well as Naga City and Zamboanga City – under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine.
Eighteen provinces and six cities were placed under General Community Quarantine with heightened restrictions, namely Abra, Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Quezon, Batangas, Capiz, Negros Oriental, Bohol, Zamboanga del Sur, Misamis Oriental, Davao del Norte, Davao Occidental, Davao de Oro and Surigao del Sur as well as Baguio City, City of Santiago, Bacolod City, Lapu-Lapu City, Cagayan de Oro City and Butuan City.
The rest of the areas are under GCQ and Modified GCQ.
The independent OCTA Research Group, meanwhile, expressed optimism that the latest COVID-19 surge is coming to a close.
OCTA fellow Guido David told a TV news show that big Christmas parties might be held again, as long as all the attendees are vaccinated—a view not shared by all.
“We can probably have a big Christmas party because the risk right now seems low,” David said.
But Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reminded the public to keep adhering to the “three C’s framework” — or avoiding close, crowded and close contact — even if the cases are declining.
“We will adjust and recalibrate, but we will still need to… all be safe,” Vergeire said.
Dr. Jose de Grano, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines (PHAPi), also expressed apprehension over the possible return of Christmas parties amid a pandemic.
De Grano said although there is a decrease in the number of COVID-19 patients being brought to hospitals, hospitals are still faced with problems like the resignation of a large number of nurses.
“If these resignations continue, in six months we may not have enough nurses,” he said.
OCTA earlier said the seven-day average in the National Capital Region may decrease to fewer than 1,000 per day before November. The seven-day average is currently at 3,120.
“We think it could go lower than 600 cases per day. For November, we’re seeing that it could be down to less than 1,000 cases per day,” David said.
But according to infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante, it would have been better for officials to wait until the end of October before lowering the alert level, saying doing it on Oct.16 is still “too early.”
“We’re not against the downgrading of the alert level. The current downtrend in the number of cases is not yet that significant. Perhaps we should wait for two more weeks to see if this trend would continue,” Solante said in Filipino.
He also said the health of medical frontliners must be taken into consideration as many health care workers have gotten sick amid the pandemic.
“If you say that the health care capacity has improved, you should also see if there are enough health workers to attend to the patients,” he said.
The Philippines logged 7,181 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the lowest since Aug. 4, bringing the total number of infections to 2,690,455.
“The relatively low cases today is due to lower laboratory output last Monday, October 11,” the DOH said.
The positivity rate was at 14.2 percent, based on samples of 40,323 individuals on Monday, Oct. 11.
There were 173 new fatalities, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 40,069.
The DOH also reported 6,889 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 2,567,975.
The country has fully vaccinated some 23.54 million Filipinos, while 26.94 million have received their first dose as of Tuesday, according to government data.
The United States recently delivered an additional 1,842,750 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to the Philippines under the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program of the World Health Organization.
In a statement, the US Embassy in the Philippines said the vaccines were turned over to the Philippine government when two separate shipments of the vaccines arrived in Manila last Oct. 10 and 11.